If you’re worried about catching the flu, you’re not the only one.
This year’s flu season is already the most widespread season nationally recorded since officials started keeping track 13 years ago.
During the third week of January, 470 flu-related hospital visits were reported by 50 hospitals across South Carolina. In Beaufort County, 273 flu cases were confirmed, which is nearly 50 more confirmed cases than the week before and nearly 100 more cases than the first week of January.
No children have died of the flu in South Carolina so far this season, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
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Compared to the previous week, the number of hospitalizations remained relatively consistent, but the number of reported deaths increased by 88.9 percent statewide.
Beaufort County hospitals have already confirmed double the number of flu cases so far this year than they confirmed during the full flu season last year.
So far this year, 46 people have died from the flu in South Carolina — 33 were over the age of 65, nine were between the ages of 50-64 and four were between the ages of 18-49.
Q: Why is this flu season so bad?
A: The primary strain of flu circulating this year, H3N2, is also the the worst, according to Ron Clodfelter, medical director of the Hilton Head Hospital emergency room.
Flu seasons in which H3N2 is the dominate strain are accompanied by a higher number of hospitalizations, deaths and illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Q: Who is most vulnerable to the flu?
A: Most individuals with the flu will not need medical care or antiviral drugs and can recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to experience flu complications that can result in hospitalizations and possibly become deadly.
Those who are at a high risk for developing flu-related complications include children younger than 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women and residents of nursing homes, according to the CDC.
Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. For example, individuals with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu and those with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu, according to the CDC website.
This year’s strain of influenza is targeting very old and very young individuals, whose lunges are likely to respond more severely to the flu, according to Rob Clodfelter, medical director of the emergency room at Hilton Head Hospital.
Q: What are the symptoms to this year’s flu strain?
A: Symptoms of this year’s flu strain are the same as years prior.
Individuals who have the flu often experience some or all of these symptoms, which usually start suddenly not gradually.
▪ Sore throat
▪ Runny or stuffy nose
▪ Muscle or body aches
▪ Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in young children than in adults.
Q: How effective is this year’s vaccine?
A: The effectiveness of flu shots vary from year to year, but doctors and public health officials still recommend getting them every year.
The dominant H3N2 strain is included in this year’s flu vaccine, but information on how effective the vaccine has been is typically not available until the flu season is over. Vaccine effectiveness in the U.S. typically ranges from 40 to 60 percent in a good year.
Even though a shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, it will mean you are less likely to help spread the virus and you will usually get a less severe reaction to the flu if you come down with it, said Rob Clodfelter, medical director at Hilton Head Hospital’s emergency room.
Q: How much longer will this flu season last?
A: Unfortunately, this year’s flu season is not expected to end anytime soon.
In the U.S., flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months.
Flu activity typically starts in October of November, peaks between December and February and can last as late as May. Therefore, it’s possible there could be a few more months of the flu activity across the nation — and in Beaufort County specifically.
Q: Should I still get a flu shot?
A: Since the flu season can last as late as May, it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
“We’re at the peak right now, but we have many more weeks to go,” said Clodfelter. “The CDC still recommends getting one (a flu shot), even this late in the game.”
Of the 30 children in the U.S. who have died from the flu so far this season, about 85 percent likely were not vaccinated, Brenda Fitzgerald, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters earlier this week.
“My message is, if you haven’t gotten a vaccine, please get a vaccine. Also, please get your children vaccinated,” Fitzgerald told the news organization.
Q: If I think I have the flu, what kind of treatment is available?
A: There are prescription medicines called antiviral drugs that can be used to treat influenza illness. These medicines can help prevent serious flu complications, such as pneumonia, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Treatment must be implemented early because after an individual has had the flu for two or three days, antiviral medications will bot be effective, Clodfelter said.
If you or a family member has the flu, doctors may also prescribe antiviral medications to high-rick family members who live in the same household, such as young children and adults above the age of 65, to try and prevent them from getting the flu.
Q: What can I do to avoid getting the flu?
A: In addition to the flu shot, preventive measures include:
▪ Wash your hands
▪ Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
▪ Clean and disinfect surface areas that may be contaminated with germs such as the ones that cause the flu
▪ Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough
▪ If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours